Attachment Theory Explained and How Hypnosis Can Help Develop a More Secure Attachment Style
Posted on 15th August 2022 at 22:39
Read below my new article published in Brainz Magazine.
"Human beings are born helpless, so we are hardwired at birth to search for and attach to a reliable caregiver for protection. The quality of that first bond—loving and stable or inconsistent or even absent—actually shapes the developing brain, influencing us throughout life in how we deal with loss and how we behave in relationships."
Peter Lovenheim, author of The Attachment Effect
Have you wondered ever why some people are very distant and unattached in their relationships while others are needy and constantly look for validation? According to attachment theory, a concept developed in the 1950s, it's because we all have different attachment styles.
When we struggle to find love, we usually end up blaming external conditions and all things outside ourselves – statistics, lack of opportunity, the area we live in, lack of suitable partners, the way modern society operates, sometimes even the way dating sites operate and many more… While these things may play quite an important role, this doesn’t remove us from the equation. Most of the time we are struggling to create fulfilling relationships and to find the love and happiness that we truly deserve because of our attachment style.
Attachment theory do not only apply to our romantic life. It is broader than that and it can influence any types of relationships, from our romantic life to our friendships or even our professional life.
Let’s see what an attachment style is, the four attachment styles, how they're formed in childhood, and how to heal an insecure attachment style and develop and maintain a healthy attachment style.
What is an attachment style?
A person's attachment style refers to a particular way of relating to other people. This attachment style is formed very early in life specifically between birth and 18 months. Therefore, it’s very important for the primary caregivers to be aware of their responsiveness to the needs of the child during these first months of the child’s life. How they respond in times of their distress will have a strong impact on the attachment pattern they will have later in life. We will expand on this topic later in this article. In a nutshell, our adult attachment style is thought to mirror the dynamics we had with our primary caregivers as infants and children, and we attach to other adults strongly corresponds with how we attached to others as a child.
There are four main adult attachment styles: secure, anxious – preoccupied or anxious- resistant avoidant, dismissive – avoidant or anxious - avoidant and fearful-avoidant (aka disorganized). The latter three are all considered forms of what we describe as insecure attachment.
Adults with these attachment styles differ in a few significant ways and there are three primary, underlying dimensions that characterize attachment styles and patterns. The first dimension is closeness, meaning the extent to which people feel comfortable being emotionally close and intimate with others. The second is dependence/avoidance, or the extent to which people feel comfortable depending on others and having partners depend on them. The third is anxiety, or the extent to which people worry their partners will abandon and reject them.
The four attachment styles explained:
1. Secure attachment
An adult with a secure attachment style can more easily form secure, loving relationships with others. A securely attached person can trust others and be trusted, love and accept love, and get more easily close to others. They're not afraid of intimacy, and do not worry or feel panicked when their loved ones need time or space away from them. They're able to depend on others without becoming totally dependent. These adults are more likely to be satisfied with their relationships, feeling secure and connected to their partners without feeling the need to be together all the time.
About 50% of adults have a secure attachment style.
All other three attachment styles are considered insecure attachment styles.
2. Anxious – Preoccupied or Anxious- Resistant attachment
Adults with anxious attachment style most often have a deep fear of being abandoned. Anxiously attached people tend to be very insecure about their relationships, often worrying that their partner will leave them at some stage and are constantly looking for validation. Anxious attachment is associated with "neediness" or clingy behaviour, such as getting very anxious when your partner doesn't text back fast enough and often feeling like you are not that important for your partner. Behavioural manifestations of their fear can also include being demanding, extremely jealous, sometimes being unreasonable, or easily upset by small issues.
About 20% of adults have the anxious attachment style.
3. Dismissive – Avoidant or Anxious - Avoidant attachment
People with this attachment style generally keep their distance from others and often have a fear of intimacy. People with avoidant attachment style tend to have trouble getting close to others or trusting others in relationships, and relationships can make them feel suffocated and are largely emotionally unavailable in their relationships, preferring to be independent and rely on themselves, as to them this is the safest way. People with this attachment style are often able to “shut down” emotionally when a potentially hurtful scenario arises, such as a serious argument.
Some 25% of adults have the avoidant attachment type.
4. Fearful-Avoidant attachment (aka Disorganized)
Fearful-avoidant attachment style is a combination of both the anxious and avoidant attachment styles. People with fearful-avoidant attachment both desperately crave affection and want to avoid it at all costs. They're reluctant to develop a close romantic relationship, yet at the same time, they crave feeling loved by others. People with this attachment style may suffer from unpredictable or abrupt mood swings and fear getting hurt by a romantic partner. They are simultaneously drawn to a partner or potential partner and fearful of getting too close. Unsurprisingly, this style makes it difficult to form and maintain meaningful, healthy relationships with others.
The fearful-avoidant attachment type is relatively rare and not that well-researched. But we do know it's associated with significant psychological and relational risks, including heightened sexual behaviour, an increased risk for violence in their relationships, and difficulty regulating emotions in general.
About 5% of adults have the fearful – avoidant or disorganized attachment type.
How attachment styles are formed.
Attachment styles are typically developed in infancy based on our relationships with our earliest primary caregivers. Researchers believe attachment style is formed within our first two years of living and is determined by how the primary caregiver responds to the child's cues when they are experiencing emotional stress. The child always gives cues and signals on how they feel and expects the primary caregivers to respond to their needs. The primary caregivers must be attuned to the child’s needs. Attunement is the primary caregiver’s ability to be aware of and respond to the child's needs. It is deeply connected to emotional attachment.
During the first two years, how the parents or primary caregivers respond to their infants, particularly during times of distress, establishes the types of patterns of attachment their children form. These patterns will go on to guide the child's feelings, thoughts, and expectations as an adult in future relationships.
“The mother‘s relationship to her daughter not only formed the earliest, if not primary, foundation for all the daughter formulates her sense of self, but is the basic template for her understanding of how relationships work in the world.”
Peg Streep, Mean Mothers: Overcoming the Legacy of Hurt
Below is a summary on what circumstances lead to each of the four attachment styles:
Secure attachment: The primary caregivers are responsive to their child's needs
Anxious – Preoccupied or Anxious- Resistant attachment: The primary caregivers are inconsistent, unpredictable with affections, sometimes overly nice and caring and intermittently withdrawn. It’s the unpredictable fluctuation between the primary caregivers being emotionally available and emotionally unavailable or withdrawn that leads children to be anxious about their future relationships.
Dismissive – Avoidant or Anxious - Avoidant attachment: The primary caregivers are not responsive, and they are often dismissive and distant. They're consistently emotionally unavailable and even disconnected from their child and their child’s needs, resulting in the child believing that their needs will never be met.
Fearful-avoidant attachment (aka disorganized): The primary caregivers behave in a way that can frighten and even traumatize the child, resulting in the child experiencing a deep sense of fear and a lack of trust in others despite to be loved and have close connections. The child can then also develop a poor understanding of boundaries and can be confused about what a healthy relationship should look like.
The primary caregivers are not the only ones who shape our attachment style. People's attachment styles may also be influenced by other significant relationships throughout their adult life. Indeed, a person can have had a secure attachment during childhood, however, betrayals and infidelity in adulthood can lead to an insecure attachment. The same applies to the professional life. Some people may have had a secure attachment during childhood and have difficult managers throughout their professional life and this can also lead to a certain form of insecure attachment. Life tragedies like the death of loved ones can also most definitely contribute to shaping our attachment styles.
All these life experiences can affect the types of attachment styles we form in our adult life. Nonetheless, the relationship we had with our primary caregivers in our early years are the ones that will have the initial impact on and shape our attachment types in adulthood.
Healing attachment wounds and developing a secure attachment type.
Although most people don’t change their attachment style, you can alter yours to be more secure depending upon experiences and conscious effort. To change your style to be more secure, seek therapy as well as relationships with others who are capable of a secure attachment. The below tips can be the starting point for building a more secure attachment style.
Raise and boost your self-esteem. This enables you to not take things personally
Learn to be assertive
Learn to identify, honour, and assertively express your emotional needs
Be authentic, show the real you
Practice acceptance of yourself and others to become less fault finding
Stop reacting. This can be a challenge because our nervous system is used to reacting automatically. It often entails being able to identify your triggers and unhook what causes them
Practice mindfulness, meditation, ground yourself and really learn to live in the moment. These practices will help you to self-soothe and self-nurture
Learn to resolve conflict and compromise from a “we” perspective
The tips above can be a good starting point to work on changing our attachment style but are often not enough to create sustainable and long-lasting changes. The therapeutic approach is most often the best solution to shift to a more secure attachment type.
In fact, good therapy provides a secure attachment to allow people to grow and become more autonomous, not less. Herein lays the paradox: The more autonomous we are, the more we're capable of intimacy. Also, we can be more independent when we’re dependent on someone else – provided it’s a secure attachment.
This is another reason why it’s hard to change on your own without therapy or in an insecure relationship without external support.
As an award-winning, fully qualified, and accredited hypnotherapist, I can say that hypnosis is a very powerful modality to help with attachment wounds.
Hypnosis is a safe and natural state of relaxation with an increased level of awareness during which you are not asleep and are fully in control. You will experience a pleasant state of mind with increased attention and focus. The hypnotic state is similar to some moments in your life when you are daydreaming or fully absorbed in a specific activity like reading for example.
There is absolutely nothing to fear as therapeutic and clinical hypnosis is totally different from stage and entertainment hypnosis and as you remain in control, you will never be asked to do anything foolish or against your will. In order for the hypnotherapy session to be successful, the hypnotherapist must have your consent, collaboration and full commitment as the purpose is to help you reach a feeling of being more in charge and in control of your life.
Hypnosis delves into your subconscious to plant positive thoughts and suggestions, which can create meaningful and lasting changes in your thought process. Hypnosis replaces the old with the new. Changing your thinking will change your beliefs, fears, desires, habits, and anything that creates resistance when achieving new things.
It is not a passive process. You are actively participating by communicating your goals and what has previously held you back in the past. These goals are to be truly yours, no matter what you desire to obtain or achieve. If you are trying to satisfy social pressure, then hypnotherapy will not help you. The process is about you, your cooperation, your consent, and your participation.
While in a relaxed state of mind, new information can make its way into the subconscious which transforms old beliefs and thought patterns. For example, if your current thought patterns are “I am will never be good enough,” and “What do people really see in me?” then your subconscious will find a way to reassert and create those negative experiences for you. Once something has been established in the subconscious mind it will remain there until it is replaced by something else. The longer it has been there, the more resistance to change. By undergoing hypnotherapy, you will in turn replace such beliefs with more positive suggestions, such as “I am an amazing person and have a lot to offer,” which then becomes your new belief and new experience.
More and more of us are beginning to understand how important the subconscious (or unconscious) mind is in both helping and sabotaging our efforts to change and be happy. It is widely accepted that most of what we do and what we think is directed by the subconscious. In effect, we spend most of the day on autopilot, our past experiences shaping our responses, moment to moment.
When working with a qualified hypnotherapist on attachment wounds and issues, you will be explained the four main types of attachment, you will have a better understanding of your own current attachment style and patterns and understand the strengths and stretches of your attachment style, you will explore, understand, shift, and shape your attachment style to develop more secure ways of bonding in adulthood.
As a hypnotherapist I believe I work in a profession which is fantastically placed to help people align with what they really desire in life, appreciate themselves and see their true potential. Hypnotherapy allows people to take better control of what they focus on – their spotlight of attention. All those pesky, distracting, and self-defeating thoughts, the negative inner voices... can be quieted down with the help of a skilled hypnotherapist.
Hope this gives you a better understanding of attachment theory and how hypnotherapy can help you shape healthier relationships and help you move forward with confidence in your adult life.
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